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March 22, 2011


Tom Babcock

Banns are the formal announcement of an engagement to marry in the Catholic Church. Usually published in the church bulletin 3 times before the wedding. The link below is to a tune, "When Irish Girls Grow Up." There second link is better--a version sung by Dolores keane and Iris Dement.



Dori Price

I really appreciated this post, Alexandra, but I have to say that I was a little confused by the notion that one would actually choose to raise his or her children within a certain religion only to "give them something to rebel against." To me, this statement seems trendy. I mean, why go to the trouble of raising one's children at all with some kind of moral code or ethical standards if in part one believes the boundaries are only a skyline for one to reach and find a way to go outside of? It doesn't make sense to my feeble mind.
Instead, why not raise our children with solid moral grounding and ethical standards so that they are compelled to rebel instead against what has become the norm in our society? And that norm these days seems to be free love and do whatever pleases you because there are no consequences for bad choices. Listen, I know my child is going to test the boundaries. He does this because, one, he is five but two, because he needs to know that he can trust my word and that what I say will happen will indeed happen as a result of bad behavior. We aren't teaching him how to be a responsible rebellious individual within the bounds of our Christian faith.
With all due respect, this post is whimsical in nature, and I understand its premise. Love is fun! Trying to steal away moments with a loved one on our own is a natural course of action but it doesn't have to be done in a rebellious way! In my humble opinion, we can't have it both ways--that is be rebellious by "[tromping] around [because it] is naughty" but feel sadness because our modesty customs have eroded and our children have nothing to "push against." We barely have those customs any longer because of rebellion. What our children push against these days is the very thing this blog supports, modesty!
We have to live out what we believe, mean what we say, stand by our moral integrity, enforce consequences, show love and grace towards our children, and be consistent so they have an enjoyable, healthy, well-balanced life!


Dori, I am very thankful for your comment as I was uncomfortable with the way the blog came off. (In fact, I wasn't quite finished with it, but it got posted before I did my final draft).

I am aware that it sounds like what I am saying is that these rules and modes of decorum are somehow arbitrary and that it doesn't really matter what they point to, as long as there is something for kids to push against. This is not my view.

Personally, it is my faith that has led to my interest in modesty, as modesty is still a virtue that is honored and upheld in the Catholic faith (even if it isn't always apparent these days!). I believe that it is important to understand one's faith tradition and what it has to say about virtues like modesty since it is from religion that we have these values in our society to begin with. And further, I believe that it is BECAUSE we haven't understood the intellectual and spiritual reasons behind the virtues that we have lost so much. (to be continued)

My blog was more to point out that people like Mary Kate and Sean probably didn't understand entirely the reason for the often strange-seeming rules for courtship that their culture upheld. But there was a reason and it was based on the Church's law and natural law and if they sought an answer to why all these rules, they knew where to inquire. So to buck a little against them was acceptable because there were so many layers of rules that surrounded or protected the one major principle: Don't have sex before marriage.

It's these layers of rules that I miss in our culture (not being alone together, being announced by the matchmaker, the reading of the banns -- which incidentally my husband and I had at our church but had never really heard of before that). And it's those layers I hope to resurrect for my children. They will know the one big rule and the reasons why premarital sex is a bad idea, but I think there is a way that those other layered (and less dire) rules can provide a buffer of enjoyment in what can otherwise seem like a hard rule to follow.

Again, I apologize for a post that came off rather more flippant that was either my intention or my belief. Thanks, Dori.

Dori Price

I have enjoyed reading your posts, Alexandra! Thank you for this follow up and clarification. In a day where many, many ideas and standards are conflicted and are taken out of context, expecially on the Internet, it was important to be very clear on this subject at least from my point of view.

Looking forward to many more discussions like this!

Most Sincerely,


There are so many non-Catholic resources about modesty and courtship. I wish there were more Catholic ones! The things that have helped me the most are The True Love Club - Jason and Crystallina(sp?)...I see lots of things that look good at Leaflet Missal...and I believe in having casual coversations ALL the time as kids are growing up so that it is part of their culture instead of laying down the rules when they turn 13 out of nowhere. Thank God for women like you that are helping so much by blogging about faith,virtue,chastity and modesty!


Agreed, Helen! I also think that in today's culture, where absolutely no moral rules are upheld or even taught (except whatever "feels good" as long as you're not murdering anyone), it's so important to teach our children as soon as they're able to grasp the concepts. We'll be giving our kids the foundation they need to stand firm in their values against the "values" of our culture.

Alexandra, I think your follow-up is great and I did get a bit of that from your original post, though you said it wasn't quite finished. Raising the bar for our kids is unheard of in these days when most parents are lowering it: trying to be their "friends," encouraging immoral experimentation, even handing out birth control. It's ok to have fun (or even sometimes make fun!) of the rules without breaking them; just the fact of having rules goes a long way into shaping our kids into upright, healthy, well-adjusted members of society.


Great post (with the accompanying clarification)! I hadn't ever thought about "layers of rules" to protect fundamental principles before, but I think that's right on the spot.

In addition, I would suggest that as a society we need to encourage peopel to think more critically about the reasons for those traditional rules. Too often it is assumed that people obey moral strictures because of religious obligation. This may be true in some cases religious certainly can play a part, but it's not always just about obeying the commands of a religious authority, or fear of damnation. I can certainly cite religious motivations in my choices to behave modestly, but there are plenty of practical reasons too. My religious reasons are entirely my own, they are not mandated by clergy or holy books.

And back to the original topic of layers of rules: having those layers in place gives people more opportunity to stop and consider not only the implications of violating the rule, but also the fundamental principles supporting it. And hopefully, they arrive at a thoughtful conclusion before carelessly blowing through the final layer.

Melissa May

Rocky, so well put. I've been following this post, though I hadn't yet commented. Your part about carelessly blowing through the final layer is so right.
I know my children may very well rebel against the morals that my husband and I have tried to instill in them, but I hope it won't be easy for them. I know they may do it anyway, but my deepest desire is that we are able to instill in them the wisdom and benefits of our moral code. Hopefully they'll not feel the need to try out the *other stuff* for themselves, but if or when they choose to rebel, then it won't just be against some arbitrary rule, which isn't all that painful but against their own conscience which has far more of a sting.
I want to teach my children the "why" behind the rule. I think it's far easier to make the right choices and defend them when you understand exactly what consequences you'll be facing if you choose poorly.


I found out about this blog in a book I am currently reading called "The Purity Myth" by Jessica Valenti who offers up your site as an example of a media which sells the idea of 'virginity'. I decided to check out your blog myself, and she if the claims made in the book were true. Well, I must say that the comment about today's culture being a place "where absolutely no moral rules are upheld or even taught" in comparison with past generation is not taking into account that many families ARE taught about morality, morality is defined differently by different people, and that in these supposed "virtuous or old fashioned times" women's sexuality was traded like a commodity. Also, this ignores the fact that society has grown to condemn things like racism, sexism, and classism. If you're extracting what you consider morality from the bible, it must be noted that these subjects are specifically preached by Jesus Christ.
Also, to imply, insist or claim that to be upright, healthy members of society one must be "pure" seems to minimize other attributes traditionally associated with morality such as being a peacemaker, a learner, a forgiver, and someone who takes care of the poor, homeless, mentally ill, etc. Also, this is your own belief, and seems downright ignorant to believe that a person who chooses to engage in sex before marriage would not be a healthy member of society. Personally, I am not married and started having sex at age 16! I have no regrets, like many people try to say young people have and believe it or not - I was not being 'used' by someone else. Also, as it turns out I ended up being a healthy member of society! Just graduated from University and am attending law school next fall. Also, I have my dignity, I'm a well respected member of my community and an active volunteer. Oh and I do have a very healthy relationship with my boyfriend. Also, I urge the author to approve this post because this is supposed to be an open discussion on the topic and I feel that my comments are important for the bloggers of this site to consider as well.

Cady Driver


Thank you for your take on morality. I know that this blog encourages healthy discussion about morality and as a contributor to this blog, I also know that neither I nor the other writers are implying that sexually active people aren't contributors to society.

If you have been spared from the heartache and problems that consistently plague women who are sexually active from childhood on, then that is fine. However, not everyone is so lucky and from the perspective of other women who are mothers of multiple daughters and can see the downward spiral of the culture, it would behoove all of us if we took a step back and re-examined the causes.

We do not write from a high and mighty position of simply pointing out the problems in others. We have all made mistakes in our lives and we simply have a passionate concern for the future of our children and it's from that perspective that we write.

If we are mature enough to look at the problems in our society with clarity and have compassion on those who are caught up in the seductive lifestyles that our culture currently espouses, then we can address some of these issues and turn things around.

We aren't a bunch of old ladies sitting around knitting here! We are young women with families who have a desire to see something better for our daughters than the lowest common denominator.

It's from that position that we write.

nurit weizman

I wholeheartedly agree with Cady that we are coming from a place of wanting to help girls overcome the profound pressure to be sexually active.

On Modestly Yours, we are desperately trying to show to the world that a woman has a depth to her that is completely disregarded when it comes to her sexuality.

My last year as a women studies major, I was a senior facilitator to the class, Intro to Women Studies. One of the last meetings we had was a panel of young feminist activists who came to address the students. One young lady brought for her discussion on sex education, a box filled with many condoms.

I often hear this argument in feminist discussion: That those who oppose abortion, are never there to help the mother after she has had her child. However, the woman handing out condoms was not there to follow up on or even talk to any of the girls in that classroom. Which is extremely upsetting, because girls nowadays feel they need to have sex if they want the chance to keep a guy around--meaning they should probably be saving up on condoms. As some of my friends and I know, no one likes a virgin in college or even in high school--she's not as chilled out and fun as the other ones. Where was the activist when the girls in the crowd were saying to themselves, "Maybe I really should get over my hang-ups, and just have sex like I'm supposed to"?

As a summer camp counselor, I sat down with my girls (about 16 yrs old) at one point last summer and told them, "By the way, I've decided to wait for marriage, and if you don't want to be sexually active now either, you don't have to". Do you know what most of them did? They cried. Because they didn't even know that NOT having sex was an option. Just on the radio today, there was a discussion about when a woman you're dating should "give it up". A caller came in saying, a girl definitely should at least be "getting down on him" by the third date. This is what our girls are dealing with.

Now more than ever, girls are being told that "giving it up" is easily separable from intimacy, emotions, or love. The way I recall Valenti discussing sex in "Feminists Do It Better" would make any girl feel as though something was definitely wrong and too uptight with her if she had trouble having or wanting to have casual sex. That's how I felt after reading it.

About every woman I know is struggling to fit this mold--training themselves to act in a way that proves to the world that sex isn't that big of a deal to her. That she can call a guy over at night, and happily let him go in the morning without ever thinking about him again for the rest of her life. Women are desperately trying to make themselves less emotional, and beat themselves up when they fail to do so. And unfortunately, the woman handing out condoms is no longer there to see any of this through.


I dislike the idea that there's only two ways to go about sex if you're female, that you either wait till marriage or have lots of casual sex with random people. Both sides do this, and it's annoying.

Feminism is not about putting out when a guy wants you to, and it's not about putting out when society thinks you should. It never was.

Our society still suffers from the stud/slut double standard. Our society still pushes girls that they have to be sexual because otherwise they'd be a prude and thats the worst thing ever, but they can't be too sexual, cause then they'd be a slut, and that would be the worst thing ever. When are we going to get over this? Why are we constantly hand-wringing the sexual choices of our girls, without thinking about the choices of our boys? What do we tell teenage boys, sex is natural, it's natural to want it and to want to experiment. What do we tell girls? Some extreme between sex is natural, you should do it whenever someone wants or sex is unnatural and doing it or wanting to do it is wrong. And then we're all surprised that we have jerks like the blow-job by the third date who mistake dating as a form of prostitution, and girls who feel like they have to have sex to keep a guy and girls who feel bad about wanting to have sex or having had sex. When are we going to grow up?

I mean seriously, when are we, as a society, going to sit down and tell our teenagers, young men and women both, look, sex is a highly personal choice and experience. It affects everyone differently. Some people find sex to be a very emotional, bonding experience. Some don't. Don't rush into it, but if you do have, be safe and responsible? When are parents in America going to get over their fears of their kids possibly having sex, and talk to them about sex, their values, and healthy relationships?

Keeping the status quo of the stud/slut is only going to keep hurting women and men. Why should we shame women for something we celebrate in men? Why should we encourage the stereotype that men all find sex emotionless, when many don't, and shame the women who do find sex emotionless?

Robin Goodfellow

"The Purity Myth", is a myth.

I'm pretty sure that Aesop says something similar about a fox and some grapes.

Nurit Weizman

I think sitting down to say that to a young woman (I'm really not trying to make any implication about men right now) is not what girls actually desire. I think most girls and women want a culture that makes it easier to find and share a lifetime commitment with their true love. I found it interesting yesterday when listening to a panel discussion on NPR which looked at Jane Eyre through a feminist lens. They scorned the sexual repression of women back in the day, but later giggled in confession at Mr. Rochester's romance for Jane, because "every woman really wants a man that is obsessed with her". I think most women are sadly afraid to admit this, but most of us (again, I'm not yet talking about men and hope to do so in the future) absolutely hope for that profoundly passionate, eternal and loving relationship with their own Mr. Rochester.


I don't see how telling girls that sex is an individual choice, that affects people differently, and that they should only engage in it if they feel ready gets in the way of lifetime commitment. If a girl feels that virginity before marriage is an important part of a successful marriage, then by all means, she should wait, and hopefully find a husband that has waited as well. But not all of us feel that way, and many of us are delaying marriage, and find sex to be an important part of a romantic relationship. If I can't connect with someone on that level, why would I want to marry them? The romanticism of waiting for someone, and because you waited and never touched another, it's special, loving and wonderful, is great, but it's not for everyone. Just like how certain religions aren't for everyone. Or how some women prefer Heathcliff over Mr. Rochester.

I know we don't like discussing men on this site, but honestly, until we look at men and women's sexual choices the same, we're going to have women who regret their choices because of how their peers treat them afterwards. And thats not right. We can disagree on whether women should have sex before marriage, but surely we can agree that women deserve no scorn for their sexual choices, whether they consider them mistakes or not.


Although I agree that there are exceptions to the rule for both genders, that underscores the fact that the "rule" is true for most. On a purely physiological level women are more affected by sex than men. There's the oxytocin connection that creates natural feelings of bonding, as well as the "risk" of pregnancy.
I don't believe in scorning people for their choices. But I do believe we can look at the choice itself and weigh the pros and cons and decide whether we believe it to be the wiser or more advisable option.
Having sex at a younger age is rarely a product of personal choice and more often born out of pressure, whether by internal hormones or external peers/boyfriend. Neither are good reasons to share your body with someone else.


None of that is a good reason to continue the slut/stud stereotype.

"There's the oxytocin connection that creates natural feelings of bonding"

No. Oxtyocin is found in both men and women. In some studies, it's been shown to lead to aggression. In some studies, being handed money has been shown to raise oxytocin levels. It's too early to say one way or another what Oxytocin actually does, and whether it holds true across a whole gender or not.

"Having sex at a younger age is rarely a product of personal choice and more often born out of pressure, whether by internal hormones or external peers/boyfriend. "

Internal hormones are still an internal choice, and are not an excuse for behavior either way, they do not cloud judgement that much. I never said or stated that people should give in to outside pressures. I personally feel that, encouraging our teens to consider sex has a highly personal choice (which would include letting them know that masturbation is normal and okay) would probably cause many to delay until, 18+. 13-14 year olds who have sex rarely come from families who regularly talk to their children about their lives, health and sex. They tend to come from families where parents don't talk and the lines of communication are down.


I've been reading this discussion long after it took place and simply couldn't let Shanna's post be the last word. Implicit in her argument is the assumption that the highest moral value in this context is that there is no judgment attached to sexual behavior. This is one of the more annoying features of any contemporary conversation about a subject with ethical dimensions, the incessant push to simply describe the various options mechanically, and as equivalent to one another. That there are real moral issues at stake is a matter of discomfort, something to be avoided.

Whether or not Shanna wants to admit it, however, there is a moral superiority to some options we have. No one is saying that people are inherently morally superior or inferior, but that morality is unavoidably inherent in their decisions. If that is the case, and if there are additional pragmatic reasons to make the choice to abstain from sexual activity until marriage, then yes, I'm afraid that a certain disapprobation attaches itself to the opposite choice.

In short, you can't have your cake and eat it too. Either you choose to exercise restraint and enjoy a certain level of societal approval; or you choose to indulge in less meaningful, selfish sexual activity and live with the accompanying disapproval. Don't expect others to ignore the moral dimensions of this decision in order to falsely portray it as somehow morally inconsequential.


One other comment. Shanna's statements about oxytocin are highly misleading, due to the governing relationship estrogen (of which women have quite a bit more than men) has with oxytocin's ability to connect with its receptors in the brain. Certainly it is present in both genders, but that has nothing at all to do with its specialized function for women's brains after sexual activity, breastfeeding, etc.


S. I don't think you read my comments quite right. I have no problem with people choosing to practice abstinence due to personal/religious/vaguely moral reasons. I have a problem with other people projecting their personal, moral beliefs of abstinence on others to the point of shaming them. This is why I've focused on the slut/stud dichotomy in society. Yes, choosing to have sex has consequences, but walking around with a scarlet A shouldn't be one of them.

Further, oxytocin is not the end all be all to why women should never have sex until marriage argument. Nearly any (virgin) teen girl whose been dumped will assure you that her heart is broken and she will never love again. Emotions run high in romantic relationships whether sex is involved or not. Hearts are broken whether sex is involved or not. Oxytocin may "intensify bonding", but that doesn't diminish capacity to love another person. Mothers don't love their first child more then their youngest. If they did you'd find a heckuva lot more bitter Catholics *ba-dum-pish*


I tell my girls.......don't have sex until you are making at least $75,000 a year and can afford the time and energy and finances that it takes to raise a baby.

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